It turns out Apple has an answer to this question: 514,000 in the US. 304,000 of those are either jobs at Apple or at companies that supply them. Another 210,000 are iOS app economy jobs but let’s face it, those aren’t likely to be full time.

So what are we to make of this? The Wall Street Journal asked me and we had a good long conversation that apparently got distilled down to this:

Joshua Gans, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto, says the new job estimates are fairly meaningless because it is impossible to assign responsibility for service sector jobs to specific companies. “You have to take it all with a grain of salt,” he says.

Yes, I agree it is hard but I said quite a bit more . Specifically, analysis could give us a clue as to Apple’s impact.

Here is how I thought about it. Strictly speaking if Apple were wiped from history, most of those people would still have jobs but somewhere else and, by revealed preference, not as good jobs. So from that perspective, Apple are massively overstating their job creation. But this is because the definition of job creation is fairly meaningless.

But stepping back what Apple are claiming is that their innovations have generated new products that have created or supported those jobs. From that perspective, however, (especially with the qualifier of “support”), 514,000 is a massive understatement. Consider the iPhone. That has spurred new activity. For one, it forced AT&T to dramatically upgrade its network. That likely changed many people’s jobs. Then it caused competitors like Google, Microsoft and Motorola (focussing on the US) to increase investments in R&D and their own manufacturing in order to compete with Apple. One suspects that once you take that into account, then the US jobs that can be somewhat attributed to Apple innovation are much higher than what Apple have claimed.

[Update: Mark Thoma weighs in at CBS.com.]

6 Responses to What jobs has Apple created?

  1. Sven says:

    It’s a little bit like saying that since 27 million people eat at McDonalds every day, McDonalds keeps 27 million people from starving. The truth is a bit more nuanced –– and hard for journalists to understand.

  2. […] Thoma One more at CBS News: How many jobs has Apple created in the U.S.? [This is based upon a post by Joshua Gans at Digitopoly.] […]

  3. ezra abrams says:

    quote”trictly speaking if Apple were wiped from history, most of those people would still have jobs but somewhere else and, by revealed preference, not as good jobs.”
    I take this to be academicese for, since they are working at apple, the job at apple is their first choice.
    The trouble with this is, we don’t know what jobs would be present in apples absecne; this statement is true only if those counterfactual jobs are are the same as the non apple jobs in an apple world.

    And what about the jobs lost to apple competition ? like at the companies that used to make mp3 players, the losses in the music industry (or gains) due to cheap downloads, the losses at AT&T competitiors…is this all factored in ? You don’t say so , explicitily

    And what about the anchoring effect ? I’m sure you know that if apple picked a random number, and *told* us it was random, we would nonetheless frame our thinking around that number.

    and what about the jobs lost to pay for exspensivve iphone contracts – if people are spending more on their phones, are they cutting back elsewhere ?

  4. addicted4444 says:

    [quote] Another 210,000 are iOS app economy jobs but let’s face it, those aren’t likely to be full time.[/quote]

    I think this assumption is wrong.

    A lot of iOS App developers are hired full time (the guys developing the facebook apps are not sitting in a basement).

    Additionally, iOS app developers have an ave salary of $81k (http://www.simplyhired.com/a/salary/search/q-ios+developer) which exceeds the average “developer” salary (http://www.simplyhired.com/a/salary/search/q-developer) (which also seems to match anecdotal evidence that iOS developers are in heavy demand).

    If iOS developers are opting not to work full time, it is most likely because of personal choice rather than lack of availability.

  5. […] = "000000"; google_color_bg = "FFFFFF"; google_color_url = "008000"; Joshua Gans has an interesting and nuanced piece about the number of jobs that Apple has or has not created in the US. The true answer is that it […]

  6. […] money app paid to app developers went outside the US. Shock. It is like it doesn’t count. The job counting game just isn’t helpful in part because it doesn’t tell us what app developers might have been doing otherwise. What […]

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